A Prize Indeed: Students Learn About Art, Academics, Hope

Outing Uses ArtPrize as Outdoor Classroom

Discussing their workshop pieces are, from left, Braden McMahon, Ciara Raymond and Isabella Jordan

Hunched over a piece of paper, Ciara Raymond pasted clippings onto it that read “EXPRESS WHAT DEFINES YOU” and “FREE,” adding letters in crayon to spell “FREELY.” Four fellow Northview High School students also expressed themselves freely in a workshop at Cathedral Square Center, as part of an ArtPrize experience that turned them into creators as well as viewers of art.

Ciara and about 200 other Northview art and photography students immersed themselves in ArtPrize for a day, in an outing equal parts education and exhibit-gawking. They split into three groups for activities at Cathedral Square, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and Kendall College of Art and Design, along with a whirlwind tour of downtown exhibits.

For Ciara and about three dozen others at Cathedral Square, the visit included a talk by retired Northview art teacher Rita Swartz about her ArtPrize entry “One Breath at a Time.” Its seven mixed-media paintings reflect her experience of breast cancer following her retirement.

Ciara said she related to Swartz’s work because her grandmother had cancer. “It was nice to be able to connect with someone inside ArtPrize, actually understand what they were going through,” the senior said.

That inside experience of art was a major aim of the outing, said Northview teacher Sarah Bullion.

“This is a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in art culture, to see art outside of the classroom and interact with it,” Bullion said.

More Than Just Fun – Although it is Fun  

Northview High School students have visited ArtPrize every year for educational projects, said art teacher Tanya Lockwood. This year students will make presentations based on the information they gather. They will incorporate other subjects into their art research, such as math or social studies, to align with Common Core academic standards, Lockwood said.

“This isn’t just a time for them to go have fun outside of school,” Lockwood said. “They learn vocabulary, key concepts and how that integrates into what we’re doing in the classroom.”

H.J. Slider, curator of the Cathedral Square exhibit and director of its educational programming, created a brochure to help students analyze ArtPrize works. A former art teacher in Kentwood Public Schools, she led student workshops by emphasizing art elements such as line, shape, color and texture.

“I’d like them to find new ways to engage with contemporary art,” said Slider, a professor of art education at Aquinas College.

Swartz taught art and language arts in Northview for 17 years before retiring in 2010. She was diagnosed with cancer while turning in her paperwork. Her ArtPrize entry chronicles her experience, from fear and the tingling in her feet to healing and spiritual uplift. Its experimental elements – and even presenting it publicly – exemplify the risks artists must take, she told students.

“That usually creates a problem of some kind,” Swartz said. “You use your creative brain to solve that problem. That’s why the arts are so important in education, because it teaches you to solve problems.”

She took joy in the hugs of former students and the opportunity to teach again.

“I hope I’m leaving you with a little bit of hope,” she told them as they parted, “that we find ways as humans to keep going.”

CONNECT

Rita Swartz’s ArtPrize entry

Northview Public Schools Visual Arts Program

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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